Apparently not. Informal surveys by Kathy Dawson have validated the statistical studies that indicate that camping and retreat experiences have provided the primary catalyst compelling students to seminary. Such studies also indicate that a huge number of believers cite such settings as being pivotal in shaping their faith and commitment to Jesus Christ.
How might a seminary promote such encounters with the Spirit? Dawson, associate professor of Christian education at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga., figured that developing a training program for camp and conference ministry leadership could help. Desire turned to action in early 2008, when seminarian Collin Adams asked her to sponsor a directed study in the field for him. She agreed and soon he returned with a list of 11 other students that wanted to join in such study.
“That’s not a directed study,” she responded. “That’s a class.”
She recruited Joel Winchip, the executive director of the Presbyterian Camp and Conference Center Association, to teach a course as an adjunct faculty member. Given that the PCCCA mission is “to equip leaders for ministries of discipleship, community building and the care of creation,” he jumped at the opportunity.
Winchip led seven students through a six-week course of study last spring, which generated fresh research into real issues going on in particular camps and centers.
Encouraged by the results, the PCCCA leaders met with CTS President Laura Mendenhall, Dean Cam Murchison, Director of Lifelong Learning Dent Davis, and Dawson. Together they brainstormed the possibility of developing a partnership for the training of such leaders.
This past fall, the CTS board of trustees put those thoughts into a covenant both organizations enthusiastically adopted. The covenant outlines multi-tiered tracks of study.
Courses will be taught annually at the seminary by skilled PCCCA leaders, and students will be able to do supervised ministry class at a PCCCA site.
Together the organizations are investigating the use of PCCCA sites for lifelong learning classes.
They hope to develop a certification program for camp and conference ministry, in cooperation with the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, modeled after the program used for Certified Christian Educators.
Eventually, they hope to put together a camp and conference ministry specialization track of study in the doctor of educational ministries (D.Ed.Min) degree program.
The seminary also has offered to host future PCCCA events on campus and provide faculty to speak at such events.
As the covenant says, CTS hopes to become “the school at the ‘top of the list’ when people consider education as a part of a call to camp and conference ministry.”
Mendenhall, who will retire at the end of this school year, is pleased to pass this program on to those who will follow her at CTS. “Columbia Seminary and PCCCA will be strong partners — Columbia supporting the leadership of the camps and conference centers where the Holy Spirit calls forth new leaders who can then be sent to Columbia seminary and prepared to continue the leadership of camps and conference centers where the Holy Spirit is at work.”
Winchip doesn’t try to contain his enthusiasm. “This is a dream come true. We’re going to be able to elevate the quality of our camp and conference ministries by providing professionally trained leaders and by enhancing the skills of those already in the field.”
He adds, “Camping changes lives.”